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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                  211
4tEven when I do get a chance to come home I am so
tired that I have just strength enough to drag myself to
the couch and fall asleep without even undressing. So
there's not much time for tidying up!"
A few minutes later, the electric kettle was singing; old,
faded china cups were glistening on the table, some thin
slices of rye bread were lying on a china bread plate, and
at the very bottom of a sugar bowl lay some sugar broken
up into tiny pieces. A teapot, hidden under a tea-cosy with
woollen tassels, also a last-century product, was filling the
room with a fragrant odour which was reminiscent of
prewar times, and in the middle of the table stood an
unopened bottle with a bluish tint, guarded on either side
by a thin goblet.
Meresyev was sitting in a deep, velvet-covered arm-
chair. So much stuffing was peeping out from under the
green velvet upholstery that the embroidered woollen
rugs that had been carefully fastened to the back and
the seat were unable to conceal it. But the armchair was
so comfortable, cosily and kindly embracing the sitter, that
Alexei at once leaned back in it and luxuriously stretched
out his tired, aching legs.
Anyuta sat on a low stool beside him and, looking up
into his face like a little girl, began to question him again
about Gvozdev. Suddenly, remembering her duty as a
hostess, she jumped up scolding herself and pulled Alexei
to the table.
"Will you have a glass? Grisha told me that tankmen
and airmen too, of course...."
She pushed a glass towards Alexei. The bluish tint of
vodka sparkled in the bright sunbeams that slanted into
the room. The smell of the alcohol reminded Alexei of
the airfield in the distant forest, the officers* mess, and
the cheerful hum that accompanied the issue of the "fuel
ration" at dinner. Seeing that the other glass remained
empty Alexei asked:
"What about you?"
"I don't drink," answered Anyuta simply.
"But suppose we drink to him, to Grisha?"
The girl smiled, silently filled her glass, held it by its
slender stem and with a thoughtful look in her eyes
clinked with Alexei and said: